The Tempest Falls a Little Flat Despite High Production Value

Photo by David Blue

The Tempest begins with, well, a tempest.  Prospero (Allan Morgan), creates the storm in order to shipwreck King Alonso and his court and place them on a nearby island, the same island Prospero and his daughter Miranda were exiled to 12 years prior. When Miranda was three years old, Prospero was the Duke of Milan. However, for Prospero, governing Milan was not as exciting as studying magic. Antonio, Prospero’s brother, felt that if Prospero wasn’t going to take his role as Duke seriously, then he shouldn’t be the Duke at all. Conspiring with Alonso, Antonio had Prospero and Miranda kidnapped and exiled to a nearby island allowing Antonio to usurp the title and become the new Duke of Milan.

Three intersecting stories are at play in The Tempest. During the storm, Prospero instructs Ariel, a mischievous spirit, to ensure the King’s’ son, Ferdinand, is shipwrecked away from everyone else in order to create a love match between him and Miranda. Upon meeting, both Miranda and Ferdinand are quickly smitten. The second story revolves around Antonio and Sebastian conspiring to kill King Alonso and the royal councillor Gonzalo so that Sebastian can become the new King. Their plan ultimately fails due to Ariel’s intervention. The final story involves Caliban, an island inhabitant enslaved by Prospero. Caliban despises Prospero and when he happens upon two shipwrecked, and very drunk, sisters Trincula and Stephana he believes they have come to help him raise a rebellion against Prospero.

While the story of The Tempest is to demonstrate virtue rather than vengeance, the story falls a little flat when you consider that the only reason Prospero is so successful in his endeavours is due to the help of Ariel, the airy sprit who is essentially “enslaved” to him. When Prospero arrived on the island, Ariel was trapped in a tree by the former island inhabitant (and Caliban’s mother), Sycorax. Prospero “freed” Ariel from the tree and presently maintains her loyalty by promising to free her from servitude. For this reason, it is somewhat difficult to care about Prospero and his reasons for wanting regain his former station.

Although I was slightly indifferent to some aspects of the storyline, this was an amazing production. In particular, the masque created by Prospero and Ariel in celebration of Miranda and Ferdinand was truly beautiful. An impressive use of props, on-stage musicians, singing and choreography was a sight to behold and helped convey a sense of romance that I felt was missing from Shakespeare’s written words.

There are two major highlights to Bard on the Beach’s current production of The Tempest. One, is obviously the character of Ariel which is played by Jennifer Lines. I would never want to reduce any woman to the sum of her parts but Lines is absolutely beautiful. Her mesmerising vocals coupled with her “spirit/fairy-like” mannerisms create an Ariel that absolutely enchanting. Even when Ariel is not the character of focus, if she is on stage, we are only looking at Ariel. The second highlight would be the two shipwrecked sisters, Trincula (Luisa Jojic) and Stephana (Naomi Wright).  I wish I could adequately describe how hysterical the scenes with Trincula and Stephana were but clearly words have failed me. Both Jojic and Wright are hilarious to watch and had me audibly exclaiming “” on (way) more than one occasion.

Attending a Bard on the Beach show is always a pleasurable experience and this was no exception. Despite my reservations to some aspects of the storyline, the show is wonderful and the perfect summer event. The Tempest is playing now until September 18th.